Matthew 7:15
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(15) Beware of false prophets.—The sequence again is below the surface. How was the narrow way to be found? Who would act as guide? Many would offer their help who would simply lead men to the destruction which they sought to escape. Such teachers, claiming authority as inspired, there had been in the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and there would be again. The true gift of prophecy is always followed by its counterfeit. Even at the time when our Lord was speaking, the influence of such men as Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:37), Theudas, and other popular leaders, was still fresh in men’s memories.

Which come to you in sheep’s clothing.—The illustration implies something like the conception of the wolf disguising himself as a sheep in order to gain entrance into the fold. So far a special feature is added to the general allegory of John 10:12 and Acts 20:29. It is possible, though not, I think, probable, that there may be some allusion to the “rough garments,” the “sheep-skins and goat-skins” of Hebrews 11:37, worn by false prophets of the hermit or ascetic type.

Matthew 7:15-16. Beware of false prophets — Who in their preaching describe a broad way to heaven: it is their prophesying, their teaching the broad way, rather than walking in it themselves, that is here chiefly spoken of. All those are false prophets who teach any other way than that which our Lord hath here marked out. Who come to you in sheep’s clothing — With a form of godliness and fair professions of love; but inwardly they are ravening wolves — Not feeding but destroying souls; feeding themselves by the destruction of the flock. “A wolf in sheep’s clothing,” says Doddridge, is “grown into a proverb for a wicked man that makes a great profession of religion, yet cannot dissemble so well as not to be discovered by attentive observation; which was just the character of the Pharisees in our Saviour’s days.” Ye shall know them by their fruits — “A short, plain, easy rule,” says Mr. Wesley, “whereby to know true from false prophets: and one that may be applied by people of the meanest capacity, who are not accustomed to deep reasoning. True prophets convert sinners to God; or at least confirm and strengthen those that are converted. False prophets do not. They also are false prophets who, though they may declare the very truth, and that clearly and fully, yet do not adorn, but bring a reproach upon it by their unholy conduct; and therefore are not sent of God by his Spirit, but come in their own name to declare God’s word: hence, which is their grand mark, they do not turn men from the power of Satan unto God. Do men gather grapes of thorns, &c. — Can it be expected by you, in a common way, that you should reap spiritual advantage, or should obtain religious improvement, from the teaching of wicked men, or of men whom God has not called to that work?7:15-20 Nothing so much prevents men from entering the strait gate, and becoming true followers of Christ, as the carnal, soothing, flattering doctrines of those who oppose the truth. They may be known by the drift and effects of their doctrines. Some part of their temper and conduct is contrary to the mind of Christ. Those opinions come not from God that lead to sin.False prophets - The word prophet originally means one who foretells future events. As prophets, however, were commonly regarded as public instructors on the subject of religion, the word came to denote all who were religious teachers. See the notes at Romans 12:6. In this sense it is probably used here. A false prophet is a teacher of incorrect doctrine, or one falsely and unjustly laying claims to divine inspiration. It probably had reference to the false teachers then among the Jews.

Who come in sheep's clothing - The sheep is an emblem of innocence, sincerity, and harmlessness. To come in sheep's clothing is to assume the appearance of sanctity and innocence, when the heart is evil.

Ravening wolves - Rapacious; voraciously devouring; hungry even to rage. Applied to the false teachers, it means that they assumed the appearance of holiness in order that they might the more readily get the property of the people. They were full of extortion and excess. See Matthew 23:25.

15. Beware—But beware.

of false prophets—that is, of teachers coming as authorized expounders of the mind of God and guides to heaven. (See Ac 20:29, 30; 2Pe 2:1, 2).

which come to you in sheep's clothing—with a bland, gentle, plausible exterior; persuading you that the gate is not strait nor the way narrow, and that to teach so is illiberal and bigoted—precisely what the old prophets did (Eze 13:1-10, 22).

but inwardly they are ravening wolves—bent on devouring the flock for their own ends (2Co 11:2, 3, 13-15).

The term

prophets in holy writ is of larger extent than to signify only such as foretold things to come; others also who taught the people, pretending authority from God so to do, were called prophets. Thus Bar-jesus, Acts 13:6, is called

a false prophet. A false prophet is of the same significance with a false teacher. Against those our Saviour cautions his hearers, as being the most fatal and dangerous enemies to faith and holiness. Some of them indeed come

in sheep’s clothing, under very fair pretences, and a fair show of religion and strictness; but

they are ravening wolves, as dangerous to your souls as ravenous wolves are to a flock of sheep. Beware of false prophets,.... Or false teachers; for not such who pretended to foretell things to come, but such who set up themselves to be teachers of others, are here meant; see 2 Peter 2:1. It may be queried, whether our Lord has not respect to the Scribes and Pharisees, who sat in Moses's chair, and taught, for doctrines, the commandments of men? and of whose doctrines he elsewhere bids men beware: for whatever plausible pretences for holiness and righteousness might appear in them, they were repugnant to the word of God, and destructive to the souls of men; such as their doctrines of free will, justification by the works of the law, the traditions of the elders, &c. since it follows,

which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves; for these "loved to go in long clothing", Mark 12:38.

in a garment which reached to the feet, and was made of the wool of sheep. The Babylonish garment Achan saw and stole, Rab says (r), was , a garment called "melotes": which is the very Greek word the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews uses for sheep skins, persecuted saints wandered about in, Hebrews 11:37 and the gloss upon the place, in the Talmud referred to, says, that this was , "a talith", or "garment of pure wool"; and Jarchi (s) says, that

"it was the way of deceivers, and profane men, to cover themselves, "with their talith", or long garment, "as if they were righteous men", that persons might receive their lies.''

All which agrees very well with the Pharisees, who would have been thought to have been holy and righteous, humble, modest, and self-denying men; when they were inwardly full of hypocrisy and iniquity, of rapine, oppression, and covetousness; and, under a pretence of religion, "devoured widows' houses". Though, it seems, by what follows, that Christ has respect, at least also, to such, who bore his name, and came in his name, though not sent by him, and called him Lord, and prophesied, and cast out devils, and did many wonderful works in his name; who, that they might get the good will and affections of the people, clothed themselves, not in garments made of sheep's wool, but in the very skins of sheep, with the wool on them, in imitation of the true prophets, and good men of old; pretending great humility, and self-denial, and so "wore a rough garment to deceive", Zechariah 13:4 when they were inwardly greedy dogs, grievous wolves, of insatiable covetousness; and, when opportunity offered, spared not the flock to satisfy their rapacious and devouring appetites. The Jews speak of a "wolfish humility"; like that of the wolf in the fable, which put on a sheep skin.

"There are some men, (says one of their (t) writers,) who appear to be humble, and fear God in a deceitful and hypocritical way, but inwardly lay wait: this humility our wise men call , "wolfish humility".''

Such is this our Lord inveighs against, and bids his followers beware of.

(r) T. Bab. Sanhedrim, fol. 41. 1.((s) In Zechariah 13.4. (t) Abarbinel Nachalath Abot, fol. 192. 1.

{6} Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

(6) False teachers must be taken heed of: and they are known by false doctrine and evil living.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 7:15-20. Warning against pseudo-prophets. Again, without connecting particle and possibly not a part of the Sermon on the Mount. But the more important question here is: Does this section belong to Christ’s teaching at all, or has it been introduced by the Evangelist that false teachers of after days appearing in the Church might be condemned under the authority of the Master? (Holtz., H.C.). What occasion had Christ to speak of false prophets? The reference can hardly be to the Pharisees or the Rabbis. They were men of tradition, not prophetic, either in the true or in the false sense. But, apart from them, there might be another class of men in evidence in our Lord’s day, who might be so characterised. It was a time of religious excitement; the force of custom broken, the deep fountains of the soul bursting forth; witness the crowds who followed John and Jesus, and the significant saying about the kingdom of heaven suffering violence (Matthew 11:12). Such times call forth true prophets and also spurious ones, so far in religious sympathy with prevalent enthusiasms, but bent on utilising them for their own advantage in gain or influence, men of the Judas type. If such men, as is likely, existed, Jesus would have something to say about them, as about all contemporary religious phenomena.

Matthew 7:15. Προσέχετε ἀπὸ, take heed to and beware of.—οἵτινες, I mean, such as.—ἐν ἐνδύμασι προβάτων. Grotius, Rosenm. and Holtz. (H.C.) take this as referring to the dress worn (ἐν μηλωταῖς, Hebrews 11:37) as the usual badge of a prophet, but not without reference to the plausible manner of the wearer; deceptive and meant to deceive (Zechar. Matthew 13:4); gentle, innocent as sheep; speaking with “unction,” and all but deceiving “the very elect”. The manner more than the dress is doubtless intended. ἔσωθεν δὲ: manner and nature utterly different; within, λύκοι ἅρπαγες; greedy, sometimes for power, ambitious to be first; often for gain, money. The Didache speaks of a type of prophet whom it pithily names a χριστέμπορος (chap. 12), a Christ-merchant. There have always been prophets of this type, “each one to his gain” (Isaiah 56:11), Evangel-merchants, traders in religious revival.(d) The false guides to the narrow entrance, and the test of the true, 15–23

15. false prophets] who will not help you to find the narrow way.

in sheep’s clothing] Not in a literal sense, but figuratively, “wearing the appearance of guilelessness and truth.”Matthew 7:15. Προσέχετε, beware of) There are many dangers: therefore we are frequently warned.—See ch. Matthew 6:1, Matthew 16:6, Matthew 24:4; Luke 12:1; Luke 12:15, etc.—δὲ, but) Whilst you are endeavouring yourselves to enter, beware of those who close the gate against you. See ch. Matthew 23:13.—ψευδοπροφητῶν, false prophets) whose teaching is different from that of true prophets. See ch. Matthew 5:17. [comp. Matthew 7:12. He who works iniquity, however he may prophesy in the name of Christ (Matthew 7:22), is nevertheless a false prophet. In our day, they who delight in casting against others the taunt of being Pharisees and false prophets, are themselves that which they lay to the charge of others.—V. g.]—ἐνδύμασι προβάτων, in sheep’s clothing) i.e. in such clothing as they would wear if they were sheep.Verses 15-23. - Matthew only in this form, though most of the separate verses have much matter common to other passages; viz.: vers. 16, 18, parallel with Luke 6:43, 44, cf. also infra, Matthew 12:33; ver. 19, cf. Matthew 3:10; ver. 21, cf. Luke 6:46; ver. 22, cf. Luke 13:26; ver. 23, parallel with Luke 13:27. (For the connexion of these verses, cf. ver. 13, note.) Verse 15. - Matthew only. Beware. The warning against being led from the right entrance and the right way is all the more emphatic for there being no adversative particle in the true text. Beware of false prophets. The whole class of them (τῶν). Not, observe, "false teachers" (2 Peter 2:1), as though these persons only falsely interpreted fundamental truths, but "false prophets," as falsely claiming to bring messages from God. They claim to bring from God the true message of salvation, but their claim is false. These were doubtless found, at the time that our Lord spoke the words, especially among the Pharisees; but when St. Matthew recorded them, chiefly among Christians, either on the Jewish or on the Gnostic side (Colossians 2:8; 1 Timothy 6:20, 21; cf. also 1 John 4:1 and 'Did.,' § 12.). Which; qualitative (οἵτινες); seeing that they. Come unto you in sheep's clothing. In, as it were, the skins of sheep (ἐν ἐνδύμασι προβάτων), professing simplicity and gentleness, and (for, perhaps, this thought is also included) claiming to be members of God's true flock. Externally they are all this, but at heart they are something very different. But inwardly they are ravening wolves. The thought of "ravening" (ἅρπαγες) is of both violence and greed. These false prophets are not merely wicked at heart and opposed to the truth, but they wish to injure you, and that for their own gain (cf Galatians 6:13). "Of the ravenousness of wolves among the Jewes, take these two examples besides others. The elders proclaimed a fast in their cities upon this occasion, because the wolves had devoured two little children beyond Jordan. More than three hundred sheep of the sons of Judah ben Shamoe were torn by wolves" (Lightfoot, 'Hor. Hebr.;' cf. Ezekiel 34:4, on false shepherds).
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